Thursday, December 8, 2016


A year ago today, my cell phone rang. It was 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.

On the other end of the call was my mother-in-law Jean, and she was crying. Although it was hard to make out exactly what she was saying, when I heard her say something about not being able to wake Tom, my father-in-law, I didn't ask any questions. I threw on a pair of old running shoes ... I have no idea when I'd worn them last ... and flew out the door just a few seconds after ending the call with Jean.

I prayed hard during the five, maybe six-mile drive to their home. Surely, he was just really tired and when I got there, he would be barking at Nanny for waking him up. I considered not calling Jeanie, who was in court in Yadkinville.

Tom and I on the day Jeanie and I were married. Just before we left the church, Tom gave Jeanie some cash. He'd carefully placed a $1 bill on the outside of the roll to disguise the $501 total amount.
It was a short consideration. We have something of a code. When it's important, we say call me NOW. Otherwise, it's just call me when you take a break and get a chance. This was a call me NOW situation if ever there was one. She called ... I answered ... and she, too, was out the door.

Jean was watching for me, and later said that she saw me coming into the driveway on two wheels. I ran to the door, entered their house, saw Tom ... and knew he was already gone.

The 911 operator asked me if I wanted to try CPR. I had to do something, so she told me to start chest compressions. I knew how to do them from my training at the Y. Just do 600 compressions until help arrives. I was on maybe 300 or so when the first sheriff's deputies arrived. They jumped in.

I went outside, breathless and my legs quivering. I called Jeanie. I didn't know what to say, other than I was sorry. Her dad was gone.

EMTs arrived. Somebody had helped Jean to a back bedroom. I took over compressions at some point, and whilst I did, I both felt and heard at least one of Tom's ribs break. I paused a split second and mentioned it, but was told to keep going.

Even today, a year later, I can still remember the sound and feel of the crack of that bone. Tom, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. 

Honestly, though, it didn't matter. Tom was already on the other side of his life's journey. What remained was merely his Earthly shell, and he didn't need it any more.

As hard as that day was, it is remarkable how everybody involved was exactly where they needed to be. Jeanie, the boys and I were supposed to start the journey to Houston, Texas by car the next day. I cannot begin to imagine what Jean's phone call would've been like had we been somewhere in Mississippi when it came.

I'd run that morning, and had already showered. Jeanie was in court in Yadkinville. Her sister, Angie, was working from home.

Tom was a lot of things to a lot of people. He could be cantankerous. It didn't take long to figure out that you did not want to talk politics or the Rapture with Tom, because he had set opinions about both and was not about to be swayed on either.

The one thing I will always remember about Tom was the lengths he would go to for his family in general, but especially his grandchildren. There was nobody in the world quite like Denver, Jesse, Adam and Lauren to Tom.

That's the man I want to be. Rest well, Tom. We'll see you soon.

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Captain

I can't say that I knew Robert Peterson very well.

We were both members of the 1984 DuPont Senior High School Bulldogs football team. He was a co-captain, and I was basically not much more than a dummy holder in practice and just lucky to be there. Yet I have one very distinct memory of Robert for which I will always be grateful.

New to the team, I had gone through some relatively minor hazing incidents. No, I was not physically brutalized or anything close to it. What's the best way to put this? It was just ... stupid stuff that I had to endure. That I know of, Robert was not involved in any way, shape, form or fashion. He certainly didn't seem to be the type.

The head coach asked me to lead the team in a pre-game devotional one Friday night. Who? Me? I was scared to death. Was this going to make things worse?

In the end, I decided I didn't care.

What I said that night is gone, lost to the more than three decades that have passed. What I do know is this. Robert Peterson ... the Robert Peterson, co-captain of the team that I'd wanted so badly to be a part of ... came to me afterward, patted me on the back and said that I'd done a good job. That was good enough for me.

Robert was a defensive tackle, the same position at which I was listed in the program. That meant that I almost never got to play. He was tough and tenacious, a ... well ... bulldog on the football field if ever there was one. If he was ahead of me on the depth chart, I was okay with not getting into many games. He deserved it.

That's Robert, Number 60, third from the left on the second row. I'm Number 73, same row, second from the right, and trying to look tough ... or squinting into the sun, whichever the case might actually have been.

From what I understand, Robert went on to med school after high school and became a physician in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Living life the way we were all supposed to, he was married and had two beautiful daughters.

Then came that awful Facebook post the other day from Kenny Hunt, another member of that long-ago football squad. Robert had lost his life, and if subsequent comments to Kenny's post were accurate, he had become yet another victim to that God-forsaken killer ... cancer.

I completed my first sprint triathlon on May 22. As I crossed the finish line, I had no way of knowing that Robert had just two days to live. I wish I'd been aware of the situation. I would've done the race for him, and at the very least have worn my trusty DuPont Bulldogs T-shirt in his honor.

Although I had not seen Robert since that night in June 1985 that we graduated, his passing has hit me hard. I lost my mom to cancer when she was just 47. Robert was 49.

I'm 48.

So here's the deal. I have an humble request. Let's call it the Robert Peterson Memorial Bulldog Challenge. Do something ... anything ... to take better care of yourself.

Quit smoking.

If you've never done a 5k, commit right now ... this very second ... to doing one. It doesn't matter if you walk every single step and finish dead last. Just do it.

If you've done a 5k, step up to a 10k.

If you've completed a 10k, go for the gold and do a half marathon.

If you've done a half marathon ... forget it. I would never suggest that anyone compete in a full marathon. Uh-uh. No way. No how. So ... if you've done a half ... do a sprint triathlon.

Then try a longer one.

Whatever you choose to do, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and ... do ... not ... quit.

I have no idea if Robert ever ran ... or visited a gym ... or continued to play sports of any sort ... after high school. But the sad and terrible fact is that he no longer can do any of those things, so let's do it for him.

This is for you, my captain.